Our flock of tropical fruit-eating birds is very fond of bananas and papayas, but usually spurn any experimental fruits we put out (grapes, apples, oranges). Today, however, a cold and windy storm drove them to eat voraciously, and by 10am they had finished two bananas and were eating even the skins. All we had left in the house were some figs, so we put one out. The banana skin remained more popular than the fig for another half hour, at which point they gave up and dug into the figs, which are now quickly being decimated by the sopping wet tanagers and thrushes.
The delicacy, detail, and sheer inspired joyfulness of God’s creative work is amazing. Take the toucan. You could just make a toucan, right? You could even give it a colorful bill and a wily personality. But do there need to be dozens of elaborate variations? It reminds me of the exuberant self-expression of a girl making Valentine cards for her friends – more lace, more glitter, curlique lettering on the front, hearts to dot the i’s, and a special assortment of candies arranged in a little box to accompany it.
We’ve been feeding the birds here in Rio for a few years now. I do think the Saíras were the first and most entertaining visitors. They raise large broods, and each year the group has grown. The birds tend to eat occasionally when not nesting, more enthusiastically when sitting on eggs, and voraciously when feeding the nestlings. Then the nestlings begin joining their parents at the feeder, and eventually everyone wanders off on their seasonal migrations until the next season. It was in April this year that the Saíras appeared en masse. Some dozen of them landed on the railing all at once, after an absence of several months. They didn’t bother eating anything, but it was a joy that they remembered us.
Fledglings are really fun to watch. When they first leave the nest they aren’t very good at steering. They also don’t seem to recognize depth and texture. When they get in the house on occasion they tend to land on any horizontal line – the top of a door frame, the top of a picture frame. But they also try to fly through plain surfaces, such as white walls and doors. Within a day or two this problem passes and they gain agility and a better ability to recognize objects and surfaces. They also stop accidentally trying to fly through the glass around the veranda. When they are in the early stage of poor navigation they are also not very fearful, and can be caught by hand. By the time they are more agile they are also more timid. That said, comfort around people seems to vary by species. The Saíras have been less skittish than the parrots or toucans, which rarely come to the veranda and are hyper-vigilant while eating. The toucan, who landed only once, spent the entire time carefully looking in all directions for danger, and never got around to eating anything. The parrots have stopped to eat a few times, but always have one of the group on guard and will leave if there is any disturbance from us moving around in the apartment.
The newest guests are hummingbirds and bananaquits, which are fairly unafraid and having a great time with the new hummingbird feeder. The hummingbirds are a diverse bunch so far: there are a couple of large glossy black ones with forked tails; a couple of similar size with lavender heads, green bodies and blue tails (apparently called Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds); a smaller kind which is metallic blue; and the bananaquits, which look a bit like wrens with yellow bellies.
Back on the banana-papaya feeder the species list continues with green sanhaçus (tamer now after getting used to us, and winners of the best cheerful song competition), blue-gray sanhaçus, blue saíras (spectacular!), several kinds of large thrushes which specialize in making a big mess, now and then an annoyingly loud Bem-ti-vi (a kind of shrike, I think), and on rare occasion a pair of Violaceous Euphonias (the male has a breast of the most amazing golden sunflower yellow, and his back is so deeply purple it is nearly black). They started nesting in a flower-pot once, before realizing there was too much activity nearby for their comfort.
You really must browse the amazing palette of hummingbirds God made. They are incredible, like little flying jewels. Here is a list of species in South America.